Life & much, much more

Design, photography, and servers.

It’s been a hectic few days. First off, I was pleasantly surprised to read on the KDE dot news that the KPresenter template contest winners were announced. I was very happy to hear that my submission had been chosen for 1st place! Here’s a picture for those too lazy to click.

Secondly, I’ve been learning a little bit more about photography, and so here’s a little preview of one of my photos. I decided to burn-in the Gentoo logo on the bottom right so that it serves as a nicely patriotic wallpaper. It’s a vague enough shape to be mistaken for part of the picture, but recognisable enough to be Gentoo (I don’t like in-your-face logos). You can download a high res version here. Here’s a snapshot for the lazy. Perhaps other Gentoo users might appreciate another wallpaper!

Finally, I’ve purchased myself a basic VPS plan from JohnCompanies – of whom is the parent company of a very commendable company called rsync.net, of whom I’m still very happy with. Although not as cheap (as in, cheap + high quality reviews) as alternatives such as Linode (who offers double the resources at the same price), I went on a gamble that my great technical support experience will transfer over into a similar great experience.

Unfortunately, JohnCompanies does not offer Gentoo on their VPSes, only on their dedicated server packages. After some quick debate, I went for Debian. I shall proceed to migrate a few of my sites to this new server as well as a few of my existing hacked-together serverside toys. If you experience any downtime or shoddiness with any of my sites (blog + email included), it’s probably just due to the migration.

Life & much, much more

I’m sick and tired of this ebook nonsense.

No. I like ebooks. At least the concept. I would love to be able to read books in beautiful, standardised print similar to that produced by LaTeX, on any device, on any screensize, without any problems like math reflow, images, and usage of ridiculous fonts. Oh, and DRM too. But that’s hell in itself.

But no. Ebooks are a mess. A big, honkin’ ridiculous pile of crap. A prime example of what not to do when converting a traditional medium to an electronic form. Why? Because of a lack of standardisation. There is no single format, due to (in a nutshell) firms not being able to talk nicely to one another, swallow their egos and agree. So now we’re stuck with 27 major formats (yes, count them) and each with its own little annoyance. Oh, and that’s without considering potential DRM being slapped on each one of them.

It’s not just the electronic format that is a mess – it’s the physical formatting too. Ebooks can be related to the pre-CSS days of HTML, filled with non-semantic markup and tables stuck around everywhere. Anybody who has experienced the LaTeX nirvana that is "this is a title, not a bold, size 26, centered font" can relate to this – whilst creative freedom is good, computers unfortunately suck at this and are unable to tell what is title and what is paragraph. Thus I am stuck with some ebooks doing nonsense like linebreaking at 80 characters, not telling me when paragraphs start and end, and oh yes- every single plaintext ebook with its own flavour of markdown.

Terror doesn’t stop there. It continues by plaguing the now-necessary routine of converting from format to format whenever you want to transfer from one device to another. Every time you format, it is inevitable that more non-semantic formatting is lost. This, of course, only happens if you can even convert it in the first place, thanks to our lovely friend DRM.

So what is the solution? The solution is threefold – 1) force (taunts and physical violence may and shall be used) all publishers to agree to use a single, open format, such as EPUB, and make that format use TeX markup. Thus ebooks will be distributed in plaintext with attached and compressed images. 2) Force (see previous) all publishers to agree to use a single repository to prevent duplication of effort (another of my pet peeves, thank you for noticing) and spend time manually and painstakenly correctly converting existing ebooks to this new format and dumping it in the repo. 3) Fix all the kinks to allow this TeX-structured ebook source to be then rendered or converted to any other format (eg: LaTeX-generated PDFs cannot reflow) should the retailer or consumer want, even if it means the retailer wants to affix some sort of DRM at this stage. If you noticed, this follows a very much source (TeX-structured format) and binary (whatever you render the TeX into) way of distributing ebooks. This is a win-win situation. Anybody can buy from anywhere without fearing incompatibility. Retailers still can satisfy their craving for DRM. EBooks are semantically-marked and rendered beautifully. Even the plaintext looks beautiful.

It turns out I’m not the first to come up with an alike proposal. A firm known as River-Valley has been cashing in on this opportunity by reformatting ebooks for their rather technical clients, and have made significant progress towards this goal, unfortunately though this project has been stalled for quite some time apparently. A few hopefuls at the MobileRead Forums have tried to make a start, but again I think it just died from lack of love.

But recently I had a wondrous epiphany to solve my woes once and for all. It was the sheer audacity to go against one of my joys in life – standards and conventions. The idea can be summed up in the two froody words "why bother?" Life is too short to care if your music collection is made up of oggs and not flacs or mp3s. Life is too short to bother to ensure that your metatags are using the ampersand corrently in place of "and". Life is too short to fix everybody else’s stupid mistakes that don’t fit your mental specification. So if you see somebody walking down the street reading a book where every sentence stops sharp at 80 characters, give them a pat on the back and congratulate them on finally getting their priorities straight.

Somebody please fix Nepomuk to make it do something useful like automagically sort my collections for me.

End rant.

Life & much, much more

WIPUP 23.09.10b released!

Yep, WIPUP, the lightweight, open-source way to share your works-in-progresses just got a lovely update today. It’s a minor update but minor updates are needed sometimes. Check it out here, and read the release notes.

The charming splash screen above was done by me on The GIMP. If enough people like it (just drop me a comment/mail/whatever) I will probably create a tutorial for some of it.

Life & much, much more

WIPUP now supports video updates!

Well the Eadrax code (what WIPUP runs on) has always supported updates with video attachments but the live WIPUP site never got to see it in action due to the server not having ffmpeg (video swiss-army knife) installed and playing nice with the latest codecs, permissions, and whatnot. Over the past few days our lovely host OpticEmpire has gotten ffmpeg up and running on the server – and it worked like a charm.

I uploaded a short clip I made a month or so ago to show the company Johnson Controls embracing the Generation Ys. It worked flawlessly – snapshotted a thumbnail halfway through the clip and resized it as necessary, reencoded the file into .flv format (HTML 5 and video tags are on the way folks, but meanwhile we have to keep legacy users happy), and the update page has a lovely in-browser video player courtesy of LongTail Video and their free license on JW Player.

The encoding is done on-the-fly but in the future encoding will be queued by the server so we don’t blow ’em up, and the JW Player will get skinned in a WIPUPish fashion. Note that videos will always be compressed. The point of WIPUP is to dump up unfinished works, and so at the moment it’s simply uneconomical to host uncompressed files.

Go and view the demonstrating update here.

Life & much, much more

thinkMoult blog design updated.

It’s come a long way since the original concept redesign back in the July of 2009. The thinkMoult blog has been incrementally updated probably once a month with small tweaks to the layout. The blog has been stripped originally from its (relatively) featureful edition to the bare essentials – ie. a streaming wall of text with emphasis on clear headers and content areas.

To me a blog is a very much a written journal. Social and pictorial blogs aren’t "blogs" in my definition of the word. As a result I’ve decided to condense things a little, cutting out pictures which don’t complement the article, focusing on clear typographical elements (pushing the limits of the beloved Arial font!) and effective use of padding rather than borders. I’m maintaining the simplicity of the previous layout (no sidebar, no link lists or fancy plugins) and sticking to my roots.

The design itself was inspired by the Depo Skinny Theme but with obvious edits here and there on font styles. What this implies is that I’ve also involuntarily drastically improved the semantics behind the blog itself – which is a good thing of course.

Everything should’ve been ported over such as avatar support in comments, asides along with my asides category pagination hack, and the various footer tweaks. There have also been a few edits here and there which add to the overall polish of the design.

Well, I hope you like it, and let me know if there is anything which looks messed up.

Life & much, much more

Bingo, sir.

If you haven’t heard of buzzword bingo, you should be thankful for the job you have. Buzzword Bingo is an iteration of bingo where your card’s grid is filled with buzzwords instead of card numbers. But what are buzzwords, you ask?

Buzzwords are words that come and go in fashion for people to use when they’re talking out of their arse – in other words, when they have absolutely no idea what’s going on but want to sound smart just to fuel their ego. They’re commonly seen in the marketing department. I like buzzwords myself and use them, but mostly when the context actually deserves them. Most of the time they’re thrown about like lemmings off a cliff.

Case in point, an example everybody (at least visiting this page) should be familiar with is Web 2.0. The first sign that it’s a buzzword is that nobody off the street can tell you exactly what this Web 2.0 is – everybody will give you something different from another. The second sign that it’s a buzzword is that it requires even more buzzwords to describe it. Heck, the Wikipedia page uses words like "user-centered design", "information sharing", and "folksonomies". The third characteristic of buzzwords are quite surprising – it’s normally that the word or phrase itself if taken literally is completely self-explanatory, but when used as a buzzword it loses all meaning in an abstract nebulous mist of paradigms and whatno- oh sorry. Couldn’t resist. In a nutshell, there are few quality buzzwords, and even fewer buzzwords that have become timeless fashion statements in the English language. Web 2.0 might be one of them, but as per definition, nobody can really be sure.

Going back to the topic, buzzword bingo is normally distributed to attendants to a function like a meeting where the speaker is well known for their use of buzzwords, like Al Gore. We sit there, listening intently but not really absorbing anything at all. At least it’s an improvement from sitting there neither listening nor absorbing. Upon hearing a column, row or diagonal line in our conventionally 5 by 5 grid we exclaim Bingo! … and go back to catching up on sleep.

The game originated in 1993 and was popularised by a Dilbert comic strip a year later.

Just wanted to share it – I brought in Bingo cards to my business studies lecture the other day and although not a winner myself, had a lot of laughs. Gotta love the look on his face when I heard "Bingo, sir."

Life & much, much more

WIPUP sightings!

Was happy today to find this mention of WIPUP by a Latino by the name of Gnosis VonDark – he had found WIPUP from the openDesktop submission and gave his thoughts on the bigger picture behind WIPUP on his blog. It’s in Spanish so you might want to run it through a translator.

It discusses the similarity behind libre software and the scientific community, specifically on the scale, the want for freedom and the reliance on community participation. WIPUP is a system to bridge the gap between developers and users. As explained numerous times before, there is so much behind the scenes that users are missing out on simply because of this communicative barrier – WIPUP aims to make it easy to share progress on even the most complex of projects in society-friendly chunks.

Creative or technical works are increasingly becoming more mainstream as applications are developed which makes Joe able to create professional quality work. I view this as the first of two main steps between the merging of these two communities – the first is when both parties are capable of the same, given the same amount of time with little exceptions (which is progressing at the moment), and the second is when the infrastructure exists for fully compatible transfer of works, critique of works, and participation in work.

WIPUP is interesting in a way in that it is unique to target small-scale or even individual work, a completely free platform reliant on the users’ choice of format, and yet tries to detract attention away from collaboration. In other words, WIPUP is not project management, neither is it a portfolio – it’s a snapshot. It’s not for looking at the past creations. It’s not for planning future achievements. It’s for viewing what’s current.

It is through this ideology that I wish to bridge the gap. Creative or technical works are not any different from other industries or hobbies because they have a wealth of accomplishments and academic milestones behind them, nor that they are reaching for the stars – it’s that they are actually identical to all other industries and hobbies because they consist of ongoing processes. Not many can relate to a mass of past knowledge – because it is the result of the combined intelligence of many contributors! Not many can relate to a goal – because it hasn’t been achieved! Anybody, however, can relate to a process, and especially a small scale, individual process.

Well, verbosity is a sin, and especially one full of brainfart. It’s time to stop writing.

Despite the lack of blog posts, I have been doing a couple things, which can be seen on my WIPUP profile.